Thursday, August 14, 2008

The pauper and the stocking knitter

You might remember I was helping an Australian lady with her family tree? Her ancestors lived on our farm.

Yesterday I struck gold, with the discovery that the 1841 and 1851 censuses had been fully transcribed for Aberdeenshire, and were available to search, free of charge, online.

I confirmed that her ancestors were here in 1841, and had moved away (but not far) by 1851.
And then I started exploring, looking at the neighbouring households. Oh my! The realities of life in those times came crashing home. Back then, there were two farmhouses, each containing large families, their labourers and even household servants. There was a 12 year-old boy working here as a farm servant, while the farmer’s children went to school.
But… there were two other separate households here. An unmarried mother of 47 lived here with her 6 year-old son. Where? Not in the main house (already full to the brim with seven children and a servant!) and not in the Bothy (where the labourers lived). Our conclusion is that she lived above the stables. If you saw the stables now, you might think she was fortunate. Actually, I would love to live there – it is “an exclusive steading development” now! But then? It would have been a cold, draughty stone loft space, with animals living below. Her son is described as a “scholar” so someone gave them a rough roof over their heads and paid for the boy to attend school.
I went back to search the 1841 census, to find out where she came from. And there she was: Sarah M. occupation: “stocking knitter”, living with another young woman in the village, next door to a family with the same surname. Stocking knitter! I felt quite emotional when I read this!
But that’s not all. The next “household” in 1841 is described as “Hill of C.”. Hill of? We got out the old map, looking for a house on the hill. And realised that it must have been the small structure at the edge of the Wood, which we had assumed was a woodcutter’s shed. There are just a few stones there now, hard to believe it was ever much of a place to live. The inhabitant was a 60 year-old woman, described as “pauper”. Who was she? What sort of a life did she lead on a remote windswept hill? I suppose she had firewood, and presumably caught rabbits to eat, but other than that? I can only assume that the farmer and his wife were good people, taking in local waifs and strays. By 1851, the pauper has disappeared from the record. Dead? But I need to find out more.
Sad, sad stories, pieced together from a few scraps of evidence.


Bryony Ramsden said...

Good grief I'm behind on your exploits! Beautiful blouse, gorgeous socks too (naturally ;D).

And VERY cool about the stocking knitter :D It was meant to be from that side of things.

Sue said...

Absolutely fascinating...can't wait for next installment. Sue. ps - spooky link to the stocking knitter though!

RooKnits said...

Truely fascinating.

Kyoko said...

Absolutely fascinating real story. I really enjoyed reading it! Look forward to reading more of it. It made me smile when I saw the "stocking knitter" :D Also, from your previous posts, yummy jam and the sock! have a great weekend!